Hancock: more questions still to come
Self-preservation is a powerful instinct among politicians. The spectacle of a fellow incumbent in trouble beings out mixed emotions: none of them particularly noble, I’m afraid.
Thus things unravelled for “No Mates Matt” last weekend as the soon-to-be former health secretary found himself signally lacking in support from fellow Conservative MPs.
With so many constituents personally aggrieved by the revelations, it’s inevitable that there would be a mass distancing from a minister who, if we’re honest, was already damaged goods.
You can be sure that a similar groundswell shared views with their whips as to how Boris Johnson had badly miscalculated by pronouncing the matter “closed” and that Hancock would continue in his role of “saving the country”.
Notwithstanding the appallingly poor judgement shown by the PM, what also seemed to confound his press team was how to react in the face of a good old-fashioned tabloid scoop, where loyalties count for nought and the prize is a bloody ministerial scalp.
Of course, things aren’t always what they seem. There’s no doubt that it was the Sun wot done it, to paraphrase a certain headline. Yet, when gifts like that drop into your lap, even the most trusting of editors would be a tad sceptical.
Accordingly, the first questions would be why did someone seemingly hold back the video footage for nearly two months? Then comes the basic query as to who benefits from this scandal? There’s plenty more, but that’s enough for starters.
Downing Street will probably have gone over all the conspiracy scenarios - which might explain why a potentially massive national security breach is now officially only the subject of a mundane (and controllable) departmental investigation.
Some Whitehall insiders have suggested the CCTV camera that ended Hancock’s career was inadvertently repositioned. A junior minister however told the Commons this week that the ex-sec actually knew about the camera and its location.
Whatever the truth of things, you can bet there was some pretty manic activity going on over the weekend as ministerial offices were checked for monitoring devices; not to mention microphones, in the case of Home Secretary Priti Patel,
The consensus among lobby journalists though is that this is an administration well overdue for a banana skin moment – and probably more to come.
Cabinet members have shrugged off a succession of negative court judgements that have highlighted illegal government actions. Each time, they’ve taken their cue from a leadership that thinks it can bluster its way out of anything.
The problem with that approach however is that substituting accountability for obfuscation isn’t sustainable and, sooner or later, the pendulum swing backs to hit you in the gob.
Johnson makes no secret of his inherent contempt for Parliament and state institutions. What he forgets at his peril is that they’re the foundation upon which his tenure rests.
The qualified support currently afforded him from the backbenches will evaporate if further examples emerge of a cabinet steeped in privilege. Johnson is enough of a former journalist to know that the press are on the hunt for just such evidence.
It’s no wonder that come Monday afternoon, and at PMQs later in the week, the attempt was to re-cast events that would depict him as taking decisive weekend action over Hancock’s departure.
Johnson is locked into the belief that the vaccine rollout is a personal get out of jail card. There’s not much that a colourless and often clueless political opposition can do to stop that from happening.
Even so, the possibility remains that other events may yet transpire to derail that plan – and it’s still only Thursday.